Pet insurance is like human health insurance in many ways. The main difference has to do with the restrictions imposed on most pet health insurance policies. For example, pet insurance almost never covers preexisting conditions.

Fortunately, despite these restrictions, pet insurance can be purchased that offers a wide array of coverage, from regular routine care to major surgery. Coverage is provided by three broad policy types.

Key Takeaways

  • Pet insurance is like health insurance for humans, but with restrictions not found in human coverage.
  • The three main types of coverage are wellness, accident, and comprehensive.
  • Covered treatments and procedures vary by policy type and depth of coverage (policy cost).
  • Within each type of coverage, many insurers offer various levels of optional coverage.

Wellness

Wellness coverage can best be thought of as routine or preventive care. Wellness-only coverage makes up a negligible part of the pet insurance market and is most often found as a rider to a comprehensive policy (see below). Most wellness plans or riders do not have a deductible but offer a certain dollar amount (or percentage) for each type of covered procedure, which often includes the following: 

  • Spaying/neutering
  • Annual checkups
  • Vaccinations
  • Flea and tick control
  • Heartworm prevention
  • Certain tests
  • Teeth cleaning

None of the three major types of pet insurance includes a death benefit. That comes with special life and theft coverage, typically taken out on highly valuable animals.

Accident

This type of coverage pays for treatment when your pet accidentally swallows a foreign object, gets hit by a car, or suffers another physical injury. Accident-only coverage, which makes up just 2% of the pet insurance market, is an often-used option for owners of older pets that have aged out of comprehensive coverage. Procedures covered typically include:  

  • Bloat
  • Foreign body ingestion
  • Hit by car
  • Torn cruciate ligament
  • Poisoning
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Prescription drugs (for covered event)
  • Insect/snake bites
  • Eye injuries
  • Sprains
  • Broken bones

Comprehensive (Accident and Illness)

Sometimes referred to as accident and illness coverage, this type of plan pays for accidents and for illness or disease, such as cancer. Comprehensive policies make up 98% of pet insurance policies written. These policies sometimes also offer wellness coverage as an add-on or included with the coverage. Coverage includes everything provided by accident-only coverage plus:  

  • Breed-specific conditions
  • Cancer treatment
  • Chronic conditions
  • Diagnostic testing and imaging
  • ER and specialist care
  • Surgery, hospitalization, nursing care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Dental illness

Almost all pet insurance in the U.S. is taken out on dogs (approximately 83%) and cats (approximately 17%).

Coverage Options

Some insurers offer additional levels of coverage within each of the main types as options, usually at additional cost. The list varies by insurer but some common examples include:

  • Emergency out-of-country treatment
  • Liability coverage for bites or injuries caused by your pet (typically part of homeowners insurance, but a few policies offer it as an option.)
  • Reward for a lost or stolen pet (typically part of life and theft coverage, but sometimes offered as an option.)
  • Pet boarding and care if you are incapacitated

Cost vs. Value

How much you pay for pet health insurance and whether it is worth it to you depend on a variety of factors, including the coverage you will get and how much the peace of mind you experience is worth to you.

Insurance costs vary with coverage and policy but in general:

  • Wellness coverage costs $20 to $25 per month.
  • Accident only coverage runs $11 to $16 per month.
  • Comprehensive coverage averages $49 per month for dogs and $29 per month for cats.